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The subjective voice and hybrid documentary filmmaking strategies: A case study


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In this case study Jill Daniels references several of her recent experimental documentary films that mediate memory, place and subjectivities: Not Reconciled (2009); The Border Crossing (2011); My Private Life (2013); My Private Life II (2015) and Journey to the South (2017). She proposes the notion that film communicates in a sensory mode that may defy written theorisation or interpretation, with a rigor and precision that is quite separate to that of written language, but that nevertheless films, like written language, may add to knowledge. She argues that film theory is essential to enable the filmmaker to raise their work above the narrow framework of craft. She interrogates the notion that experimentation in documentary films may avoid perceived constraints of certainty, evidence and veracity. She notes that as a practice researcher within the academy she has freedom to experiment, which has brought considerable benefits to her practice.
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Alphaville: Journal of Film and Screen Media
no. 17, 2019, pp. 97110
© Jill Daniels
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License
The Subjective Voice and Hybrid
Documentary Filmmaking Strategies:
A Case Study
Jill Daniels
Abstract: In this case study Jill Daniels references several of her recent experimental documentary films that
mediate memory, place and subjectivities: Not Reconciled (2009); The Border Crossing (2011); My Private Life
(2013); My Private Life II (2015) and Journey to the South (2017). She proposes the notion that film
communicates in a sensory mode that may defy written theorisation or interpretation, with a rigor and precision
that is quite separate to that of written language, but that nevertheless films, like written language, may add to
knowledge. She argues that film theory is essential to enable the filmmaker to raise their work above the narrow
framework of craft. She interrogates the notion that experimentation in documentary films may avoid perceived
constraints of certainty, evidence and veracity. She notes that as a practice researcher within the academy she
has freedom to experiment, which has brought considerable benefits to her practice.
Figure 1: Journey to the South by Jill Daniels. High Ground Films 2017. Still.
In this case study of my recent documentary film practice I explore the notion that
creative film practice produced from within the academy can create new knowledge. I suggest
that although films communicate in a sensory mode that may defy written theorisation or
interpretation, nevertheless they can add to knowledge through their originality, rigour and
relevance to the wider social world. I argue that film theory is essential to enable the filmmaker
to raise their work above the narrow framework of craft and, therefore, I developed and
constructed my films by drawing upon film theory to inform the practice of the films’ making.
I also built on ideas embodied in my previous films and those of others; and I relied on intuition.
The blurring of perceived boundaries between fiction, art and documentary and the methods of
ethnographic fieldwork and use of subjective voice are central to my practice. This pragmatic
approach has been invaluable in the development of my creative practice from inside the
All the films in this case study are explorations of memory, history, place and
subjectivities, including autobiography. In the mediation of history and memory, I argue that
the mimetic approach of realism in the production of documentary films may not always be
feasible in recalling the past; since memories that are associated with traumatic experiences
may be unreliable, other filmic techniques and strategies including fictionalised enactment may
be found to evoke memory. In the construction of my films I take into account that the
articulation of the past takes place in the present, and thus I seek to recreate the past rather than
attempt to recapture it. Many of the films are located in places of traumatic events, such as war,
or that are suffering the effects of economic globalisation; in the mediation of place I explore
the concept that place may be foregrounded, not for its aesthetic qualities, but as a character to
interact with memory and subjects. I focus on my extensive use of disconnected subjective
voices in a range of tenses, which may create clashes of temporalities between sound and
image. Some of the films are centred on the representation of myself to create a form of
“subjective cinema” where embodied authors perform themselves in the first-person mode
(Rascaroli). This approach has become increasingly prevalent in recent years and I discuss its
effectiveness, rather than justify its presence in my practice, and the multiple and contradictory
levels at which it exists (Chapman 63). In focusing on the production of autobiographical films
in my dual role as maker and subject of a documentary film I explore my own subjectivity and
the way it may act as a cultural guide in an exploration of the social world.
My films are conceived as experimental documentary films; to question and explore
rather than conclude. To this end I argue that experimental films may bypass perceived
demands for certainty, evidence and veracity (Landy 58). The demand for “evidence” is
generally found in the conventions of mainstream documentary filmmaking whose aim is
primarily to provide authentication of the mediation of historical events. Experimental films
are often considered difficult to “read” in their use of unconventional filmic language and my
choices of tropes and techniquessuch as realism or fictionalised enactmentsand the
inclusion of stills, archive material, found footage or slow-motion that may be deployed in
experimental documentary films may be varied. This affords me a flexibility that helps to open
a window onto distinctive and original ways of mediating historical events, thus deepening our
knowledge of those events. While my films were generally planned and often scripted carefully
during the research period, I also relied on my responses to place, observation of the routines
of daily lives of human subjects and chance encounters in my choices of filming. All the films
were produced with a very small crew, generally one other person and me and this allowed me
to obtain a greater intimacy with human subjects. There was usually a lengthy period of editing
where choices in the films’ construction were considered and accepted or rejected; these
decisions were often reconsidered. I generally continued editing until I decided that further
editing would take the film no further.
Memory and History
Figure 2 (top): Belchite. Figure 3 (bottom): Chance encounters. Not Reconciled by Jill Daniels.
High Ground Films 2009. Screenshots with links to video excerpts.
The first film I made was for my practice-led doctoral thesis. Not Reconciled (2009) is
a forty-minute film located in Belchite, a small town in northern Spain. It evolved from my
interest in the history of the Spanish Civil War (19361939) and my earlier observation of
privations and extreme inequalities in Spain in the late 1960s. There was no Truth Commission
at the end of the Francoist era in Spain, no purge of the army or police and no assessment of
the crimes of the regime. At the start of the twenty-first century, I became aware through the
British press of the existence of unmarked mass graves in Spain. I chose to locate Not
Reconciled in Belchite because it was the site of a three-week battle won by the Republicans.
At the end of the war it was deliberately left in ruins by General Franco to symbolise his victory
and a new “modern” town was built next to the ruins. My aim was to explore remembering and
forgetting the traumatic events and experiences of the Spanish Civil War and its violent
aftermath; the methodology of the film’s construction evolved after some trips to the location.
I visited Belchite with the purpose of finding eyewitnesses to the events of the civil war, but
this proved difficult. There was very little archive footage available to me. However, there were
many first-hand accounts of life in the village before and during the war through diaries, letters
and historical accounts.
My aim in Not Reconciled was to articulate Belchite as a place that embodies history
where stories in the present are not yet completed; to mediate place as a once-lived environment
for its human subjects and to analyse the varied ways it relates to the subjects in my film.
relied on chance encounters and I filmed characters going about their daily lives, children
playing, men exercising horses and Spanish tourists wandering in the ruins, and I conducted
vox pop conversations with elderly characters who generally evaded my questions of
whether it was better to remember or forget the events of the war. Images of ruined churches
and larger houses that survived the battle were central in the filming. I considered that the
image of a ruined house may be used as a potent metaphorical depiction (Bachelard xxxvi).
Images of houses ruined by the effects of war may convey contestation and a sensation of
stasis; the curving back of time into itself. An image of a ruined house may be seen as a sign
that has escaped from history. The sign then becomes the object of contemplation, because the
past itself cannot be contemplated (Farassino 17). Other images consisted of collapsed
passages, glassless windows, open doorways, walls newly spray-painted with Anarchist circled
As, the faint traces of painted shop signs, dead animals and human artifacts, a small plastic
comb or the remains of a leather shoe.
In order to convey the sense of a continuing past in the present I used many different
images to evoke metaphorical significations. For example, images of wind turbines located on
a hill, which loom over the town, were intended to evoke ideas of the forces of modernity and
“progress”, and to present a jarring contrast to the desolation conveyed by the images of
buildings ruined by the effects of war. As Andrew Schenker eloquently notes in his discussion
of Spanish filmmaker Mercedes Alvarez’s The Sky Turns (2005), which charts a declining
population in the small Spanish village of La Aldea:
Nothing speaks more elegantly to the bewilderment of the locals than a long shot of
newly built windmills lining a distant hilltop while a villager, made tiny by Álvarez’s
framing, looks on in the foreground, swallowed up by the forces of history. (Schenker
After filming the ruins and capturing observational footage of daily lives in the new
town, as well as conducting brief interviews direct to camera, I contemplated the footage I had
collected. In the editing of the images of ruined houses I aimed to represent a perpetual
disintegration; to act as empty vessels for the bodies of tourists who trace their way in and
around the buildings. The tourists’ physical movements suggest the way the houses’ former
inhabitants may have moved in and out of the same space, but now the space is empty, its
inhabitants absent. My purpose was to evoke a sensation that interior and exterior space had
merged. I digitally manipulated some of the images to convey a sensation of ghostliness and to
act as a brief temporal rupture within the diegesis; to evoke contestation rather than
reassurance. The images of ruined houses are intended to express a sense of loss and a poignant
recognition that they once represented their own corner of the world for their inhabitants; a
“cosmos” that is irretrievably lost. Finally, I created fictionalised characters of ghosts of young
Republican fighters as surrogate witnesses to the town’s contested history; their whispered
voices speak from a mass grave. The disconnected subjective voices collide with the images of
place in order to convey the immediacy and sense of lived experiences, to bring the past into
the present.
Mediating the “I”
Figure 4: Inside the cars. The Border Crossing by Jill Daniels. High Ground Films 2011.
Screenshot with link to video excerpt.
After the completion of Not Reconciled I turned to focus on autobiography. Delving
into autobiography in order to mediate memory involved a process, an excavation, a digging
deeper, which, I would argue, lends itself to experimentation, the poetic and the uncertain. It
brings one a step closer to an acknowledgement that subjectivity and self-reflexivity may
provide rich possibilities for the cultural exploration of the social world. However,
autobiographical filmmaking always carries with it a challenge to the notion of the possibility
of a unified subject. Where the filmmaker is both the subject and the object of the gaze, she is
necessarily divided but it is that very division that, I would argue, makes it so compelling. The
Border Crossing, a forty-seven-minute film, was the second film I made for my doctoral thesis.
It takes a directly autobiographical approach to my memories of a traumatic experience, a
sexual attack. The fact of the incomprehensibility of the violent experience continues to haunt
me and has led to its non-assimilation through direct recall. I therefore chose to use my
subjectivity, which, while breaching the normal standards of objective documentary
filmmaking by including fictional and personal elements, would articulate a metaphorical
evocation of the past in the present. After being sexually attacked while hitchhiking in the
Basque country, I wrote an account of the traumatic event. Forty years later I felt sufficiently
distanced from the experience to explore it and to contextualise it in a cinematic mediation of
the event.
Articulating an authentic cinematic representation of memories of the past always
poses particular problems for the filmmaker. Individual memories are central components of
our inner worlds and provide us with the sense of our individual and communal identity.
Memories may be perceived as affected by our visual, aural and sensory inner worlds. Their
perception in our interior world is subjective and takes different forms. A memory may
sometimes appear to us as fixed, resembling an image of a frozen moment in time. Some
memories appear fragmented and unreliable, containing significant elisions in time or place
and they may continually change in form and sensation. Memories may disappear from our
view altogether or reappear, seemingly unbidden, or as a result of the effect of external forces.
This is complicated by the knowledge that individual memory may be cinematically
unrepresentable via literal digital or analogue filmic means. “Memory” cannot be seized and
brought in front of the camera to be filmed. Further, every time we “remember” an event, an
image, sound, or a sensation from the past, we always “remember” in the present.
In contrast to Not Reconciled, where the fictional elements were created in the editing
process, after preproduction research and the filming process were carried out, the Border
Crossing was planned in advance and a draft of the fictional elements was scripted in
preproduction. During the shoot I obtained observational footage of daily lives and carried out
filmed interviews in order to contextualise my subjectivity in the social world. Given the
unreliable nature of memories of traumatic experiences I aimed to create uncertainty. On one
occasion I went to the railway station in Irun, on the border of France and Spain. I had the
feeling that I had sat on a bench in this station during my journey. It felt very familiar but I
could not connect it to a specific memory. Freud refers to this feeling as an “uncanny moment”,
a feeling of déjà vu that leads to a sense of depersonalisation, of a splitting of identity. Later in
the editing I represented this “uncanny moment” in a sequence of stills I took in the station; an
unidentified man in the background appears to move along the platform towards the camera;
my voice over these stills notes my feelings of déjà vu and the sense that a memory may be an
imagined memory, not a lived one.
During a visit to the Basque country I was introduced to Maria, a photographer whose
father was sentenced to death during the Spanish Civil War. The sentence was later commuted
but he spent many years in prison. This encounter chimed with my interest in the events of the
Civil War and she agreed to be filmed looking at photographs of her father and reading from
his prison diary. Later, when I was filming Maria in her home, she told me she had crashed a
car while driving on a motorway and that her niece had died in the crash. Maria had shown
little strong emotion during her conversations about her father but now she appeared to be
emotionally affected by her confession and she abruptly changed the subject. Her account
was fragmentary, but it resonated with the narrative of my sexual attack and I edited it into the
film. On another occasion, while I was filming a demonstration in support of Basque political
prisoners in Bilbao, I came across Aitziber, a young Basque woman who talked passionately
to me about her memories of torture at the hands of the Spanish police. In the edited film my
fictionalised voiceover notes my fascination with these two women who suffered from the
continuing effects of memories of traumatic experiences.
In the edited construction of The Border Crossing I explored the fragility of
remembering and forgetting and the nonassimilation of traumatic experience by conjoining the
voices of Sian who enacts the role of my surrogate on screenand mine, which constantly
make reference to “my” unexplained desire to locate the exact site of the border crossing in
Spain, where I waited at night for a lift to France. The voiceover descriptions of events often
contradict the images in the frame. In a very long take of the interior of a car as it moves through
landscape, Sian’s voice and mine describe in the present tense a sequence of events occurring
inside the car between me and a young man; these events may only be imagined by the
spectator, since if they are happening at all, they are outside the frame. In another sequence in
a café, which is empty except for a man standing by the door, a present tense voiceover
describes events that are happening in the café; these are also not shown in the frame and the
shot ends with the man leaving the now empty café. In another set of sequences images of
different border crossings are repeated throughout the film. These strategies were chosen in
order to create a metaphorical evocation of physical divide and contestation and to convey the
unreliability of subjective memory. In the inclusion of extensive static images of signifiers of
the ongoing nationalist struggle for an independent Basque state through shots of political
posters and demonstrations in support of Basque nationalist prisoners, and the inclusion of the
sequences of Maria and Aitziber, I sought to link past and present, the imagined with the
Figure 5: Enactment and home movie. My Private Life by Jill Daniels. High Ground Films 2014.
Screenshot with link to video excerpt.
Continuing my exploration of memory and autobiography I began to film my elderly
Jewish parents in their small flat in North London, interviewing them about their memories of
the past and recording the routines of their daily lives. In 2014 I completed My Private Life, a
sixty-three-minute autobiographical film. I did not fully plan this film, beyond the vague aim
of telling the story of the turbulent effect on my familial history of my father’s unacknowledged
sexuality. My parents divorced after twenty years of marriage, but after thirty years apart they
decided to live together again as “friends”. For this film I drew upon the work of Annette Kuhn
who observes that most families have secrets but if these are buried and unspoken for years,
they may sometimes escape conscious awareness and create a form of amnesia in some family
members (2). I adopted an autoethnographic approach, in order to inscribe myself in the film
as the semi-fictionalised “daughter”, a role that Catherine Russell describes as “a form of ‘self-
fashioning’” (277). To this end, I filmed family photographs, and conducted interviews with
each of my parents separately about their memories of the past. Since they had led itinerant
lives throughout my childhood, I filmed some of the many flats and houses where they had
lived. I filmed their friends when they visited their flat. My Private Life and its split-screen
successor My Private Life II (2015) are the only films in this case study where I occasionally
appear in frame and address the camera directly. My aim was to evoke a sense that all three
subjects were “trapped” in a dysfunctional familial relationship. During the shoot my father’s
friend revealed that my father is gay. He remarks that my father was sacked from his
employment and then asks me: “Did he tell you why they pushed him out, was it because he
was gay or something?” Off-screen I reply: “Actually, he never really said.” “Hmm. Hmm”,
says the friend. It is my father, not my mother, who reveals she was the victim of abuse. After
the death of my mother, it is the handyman who acknowledges the existence of family secrets:
“Your mum, how can I put it, was very secretive to herself and maybe to a lot of other people.”
These revelations, however obtained, may afford the spectator a greater sense of empathy with
my parents, while they underline contested identities fixed by secrets. Later, I filmed
fictionalised enactments to convey the daughter’s frustration over my mother’s refusal to
acknowledge my stepfather’s violence. I did not confront my parents directly in My Private
Life. Just once during a filmed interview with my mother, where the camera follows her slowly
as she moves in and out of frame, is the expectation there may be a meaningful revelation, but
she is interrupted by a telephone call and the shot cuts.
There are many interviews in My Private Life (and in all the films in this case study) in
the form of conversations between my parents and me. It is generally assumed that interviews,
although they may be subjective, serve to provide narrative authentication. In the mediation of
a dysfunctional family where each member may be concealing long-held secrets, such
interviews may be misleading. There are also ethical considerations to be taken into account in
the choice of direct interviews when the filmmaker perceives that the interviewees do not wish
to be confronted. I had no idea how long I would film, but after a year of filming my mother
died. This was entirely unexpected and brought the filmed interviews to an abrupt and
inconclusive end. I decided to continue filming my father to see whether he might reveal his
secrets and how he would cope with the loss of my mother. After he packed up the flat and
moved house, I filmed him in his new flat and accompanied him to Spain, where he had lived
for many years, and the filming ended.
During the editing I used my parents’ extensive voiceovers and mine over images of
the houses and photographs. My parents voices mingle with mine, not in conversation, since
my parents talk in the past tense and my voice is generally in the present tense, as I search their
narratives for clues that may reorder their fixed narratives. My memories are often voiced in a
present tense “you” addressed to my mother. I structured the narrative by dividing the film into
three sections; the first two sections are centred on each of my parents in turn as they offer
alternative views of the same events. The last section is structured around my father and me.
In focusing on different memories and viewpoints of each of the characters I aimed to indicate
how a shared history may be recalled and have different meanings. During the editing I decided
to film my hands constructing a model of a terraced house; in the final shots, cobwebs thread
their way over the windows of the house now “built”, evoking my failure to achieve any
revelations of secrets that may rebuild the familial relationships. The fictionalised enactments
and home movies, the nonlinear narrative intercut with interviews, observational filming of
daily lives, and shots of the many buildings my parents lived in and the construction of the
model house and voiceovers in different tenses may evoke a deep sensation of contested
Figure 6: My Private Life II by Jill Daniels. High Ground Films 2015. Screenshot with link to video excerpt.
The following year I re-edited My Private Life. My Private Life II is a shorter, twenty-
five-minute split-screen version of My Private Life. It is constructed entirely from the footage
from the earlier film with a linear narrative structure, but the structure is fragmented through
the use of images that are often repeated in the film and across the frames. Sometimes the
frames are black; each character is generally confined to one frame with the aim of underlining
the rigid separation between them. This methodology encourages the spectator to make links
through the different images in a methodology, which Alexander Kluge refers to as
constellational filmmaking:
Constellational filmmaking is a gravitational power, like the sun. It is not linked by
hinges to the planets and the moons. They’re quite independent, you see, but the
gravitational power brings them into Newton’s order. Complete galaxies function like
this. [] This is independent from direct links. It has gaps. It is a montage. [] Without
direct link, without grammatical connections, you show context (Kluge qtd. in
In using my earlier film as “found footage” my aim was to reflect on the different
possibilities of format and editing choices and to expand the notion of uncertainty and lack of
closure since the text may always continue in new forms to create new meanings. My Private
Life II is a stand-alone film and it is not necessary to have seen the earlier film. At the heart of
this methodology is the use of repetition, of images, gesture and sound to allow a
reconsideration of the earlier film’s discourse and a reconsideration of the way the image was
shown on the screen earlier in the film. Repetition has the force of emphasis and is not a return
to the identical (Agamben). The ease with which digital images may be obtained and replicated
means that documentary filmmakers may rework their past films with ease to experiment with
stylistic forms to create new meanings and a range of viewing experiences; to evoke uncertainty
not closure. This may deepen spectatorial participation rather than identification in the reading
of images and allows the possibility of new mediations, new aesthetic possibilities and new
Collective Memory and Place
Figure 7: Journey to the South by Jill Daniels. High Ground Films 2017. Screenshot with link to video excerpt.
In my next film, Journey to the South (2017), I focused on collective memory and the
use of the subjective voice in the construction of an essay film. The essay film always has a
duality because of the form’s fundamentally enquiring nature, and so as a genre it is never
stable. As Louis Giannetti points out: “an essay is neither fiction nor fact, but a personal
investigation involving both the passion and intellect of the author” (26). Since it is not pinned
down to a specific form, the essay film cannot be easily classified. This enabled my
experimentation with hybrid strategies outside the normative classifications of genre.
I conceived Journey to the South when a friend living in Menton, a small town on the
French Rivieria, told me about the unsolved murder of a shepherd that took place twenty-five
years earlier in a mountain village, Castellar, not far from Menton. Over the years there have
been three murder trials of local hunters without resolution; each of the accused pinned the
blame on the others. Bullets were found at the scene, but the gun, an old hunting rifle, was
never found. There is a very strong tradition of hunting in the mountains in the South of
Franceparticularly the hunting of wild boarswhich helped small villages to survive.
During the First and Second World Wars, Castellar was depopulated, agriculture went into
decline and the population dwindled. In recent years some agriculture has been re-established,
bringing in a beekeeper, small-scale organic farming and the rearing of goats and sheep.
However, this new type of agriculture brought “outsiders” into the village with new ideas. As
Mikhail Bakhtin observes, collective memories of the familiar may create a nostalgic “idyllic
re-inscription” of the lost way of life in a village threatened with dispersal: “idyllic life and its
events are inseparable from this concrete, spatial corner of the world where the fathers and
grandfathers lived and where one’s children and their children will live” (225). The murder
appeared to be the finale to a bitter unresolved feud between the hunter “clans” who clung to
the hunting tradition and Pierre, the idealistic shepherd, an educated outsider who did not
hesitate to kill a dog if it “worried” the sheep on his land.
Decades after the murder the central characters in this drama remain in the village. The
yearning for a lost way of life by descendants of the original villagers appears as a nostalgic
view of an idyllic pastan idyll that was, however, marked by inequalities and povertyand
this nostalgia eventually led to violence. I proposed my film as an essayistic enquiry into how
a violent act may affect the inner world of a human being; and how the effects of the violent
act when there is no perceived justice may transform a community. In Castellar the traumatic
event left the village inhabitants without a homogeneous collective memory, leaving a silence
in the village, in what Claudia Koonz describes as [a] kind of historical weightlessness [that]
renders words, values, actions, and ideas meaningless” (258).
Confronted with the problem of representing a village in stasis, whose inhabitants had
taken a tacit vow of silencea problem I had already encountered in Not ReconciledI took
an elliptical approach to create uncertainty in order to mediate the contested identities of the
village inhabitants, rather than to provide a resolution to the murder. I carried out very little
preplanning, but in my role as “investigator” I created a fictionalised version of myself, one
who stumbles upon the story of the murdered shepherd, delves into it, but faced with no witness
accounts, struggles to make a film. In the film this struggle is represented through my surrogate
character, the voice of Katherine Mansfield the short-story writer. This allowed a layer of
distantiation that drew the film away from any notion of an investigatory documentary. On one
of my research trips I discovered that Mansfield had lived in Menton towards the end of her
lifeshe was dying of tuberculosisand had visited Castellar; in a letter she gives an
evocative description of a journey into the mountain. Her journals contain rather melodramatic
accounts of her problems with her creative writing. I filmed extensive shots of landscape during
different seasons, the routines of daily lives and conversations with Pierre’s family and some
of the many foreigners who had settled in and around the village. Eventually, one of the hunters
agreed to talk on camera about his passion for hunting but during the filming, when I mentioned
Pierre, he became evasive.
In editing Journey to the South I scripted my role as a voiced flâneuse/filmmaker, who
guides the spectator through a fictionalised journey from a city in the north to the south of
France. My journey (and the film) begins with a sequence of black-and-white stills of the city
(shot in London) and focuses on the expressionless faces of people hurrying through crowded
streets and subway. My voiceover states my intention to escape the city for the warmth of the
South. The film then cuts to images in colour in Menton. The town seems peaceful and my
voice, edited over images of a beach full of holiday-makers on a beautiful sunny day, says that
I remember family holidays I took as a child. In a later shot my voice, over an image of the
exterior of a large house, says I have found a place to stay. My “hosts” are an elderly woman
and a middle-aged man, perhaps her son or her carerthe relationship remains uncertain; the
apartment is full of old-fashioned furniture, religious paintings and Marxist memorabilia. The
sense of a temporal dislocation from the present is heightened when the film cuts to a refugee
camp on the beach, located next to a border crossing. In a later black-and-white slow-motion
sequence, well-dressed French tourists (including my host and an unidentified woman) dance
to 1960s rock music while my voiceover quotes from a newspaper article giving the definition
of a psychopath. The discordant effect of this sequence is reprised in a further black-and-white
slow-motion sequence when some of the villagers talking at a social event eye the camera
suspiciously before turning away, while Pierre’s father stands unmoving and silent in the
When the film moves into Castellar, the absent Pierre’s voice—edited over close-up
shots of a diseased treegives a ghostly address to his murderer, reflecting on his new role as
a “witness” to his own death. In another shot, a sign pinned to a door proclaims the “Death of
the Countryside”. In a further sequence the village inhabitants carry a larger-than-life-sized
model of St Sebastianits naked body pierced with arrowsinto the village church, while an
unidentified woman’s voiceover says “the problem” was the struggle for the land that led to
the death of the shepherd. Later, Pierre’s relatives and friends criticise the village’s mayor and
other inhabitants for its state of disintegration. However, an optimistic note is struck through
images of a young boy playing happily in an aesthetically beautiful landscape; repeated shots
of a caged bird who eventually flies out of frame; and in a shot of the current shepherd who
tenderly cradles a tiny orphaned lamb in his arms and names her Étoile (Star).
My aim in the films produced for this case study was to push the boundaries beyond
traditional academic knowledge production, but in doing so, to add to knowledge. In particular
I have shown how the use of the subjective voice, often in different tenses and disconnected
from the images in the frame, may illuminate and guide a film’s discourse in the mediation of
memory and subjectivities in order to obtain deeper meanings. In constructing the films, I
placed great value on my response to chance encounters during the filming process and
explored how the use of varied cinematic strategies and techniques such as critical realism, use
of the archive, enactments, the epistolary address, split-screen view and found footage may be
valuable in the exploration of subjectivities to add to knowledge in the mediation of place and
memory, including memories of traumatic experiences.
The benefits of carrying out my practice within the academy have been the provision
of valuable research time; a small amount of funding offered by the academy; support for the
dissemination of my research through the Research Excellence Framework (REF) in 2014, and
the publication of my research in several prestigious academic journals and books. In the
academy I have the freedom to carry out further experimentation into hybrid strategies of
critical realism and enactment as well as the use of the subjective voice; experimentation which
always runs the risk of failurerarely possible in the mainstream film industry and broadcast
television. My research has also brought prestige to the academy through the impact with
audiences of film festival and public screenings and the screenings of films, and presentations
of papers referencing the practice at international academic conferences.
In August 1937, Belchite in Aragon, Spain, was held by Nationalist forces. Republican forces
besieged the town. After three weeks of fighting they captured it. The town was reduced to
rubble. On 10 March 1938 it was recaptured by the Nationalists, who held it until the end of
the Civil War.
I am grateful to the anonymous peer reviewer in the journal Sightlines who alerted me to
this interview with Kluge.
Agamben, Giorgio. “Difference and Repetition: on Guy Debord’s Films.” Guy Debord and the
Situationist International: Texts and Documents, edited by Tom McDonough, MIT
Press, 2004, pp. 313320.
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Emerson & Michael Holquist, edited by Michael Holquist. U of Texas P, 1981.
The Border Crossing. Directed by Jill Daniels, High Ground Films, 2011,
Chapman, Jane. Issues in Contemporary Documentary. Polity Press, 2009.
Farassino, Alberto. “Gitai: The Nomadic Image.” The Films of Amos Gitai: A Montage, edited
by Paul Willemen. BFI, 1993, pp. 1618.
Gianetti, Louis D. Godard and Others: Essays on Film Form. Fairleigh Dickinson UP, 1975.
Journey to the South. Directed by Jill Daniels, High Ground Films, 2017,
Kluge, Alexander. Interview. Conducted by Jonathan Thomas. The Third Rail, Issue 10, 24
Oct. 2016,
Koonz, Claudia. Between Memory and Oblivion: Concentration Camps in German Memory.”
Commemorations: The Politics of National Identity, edited by John R. Gillis. Princeton
UP, 1994, DOI:
Kuhn, Annette. Family Secrets: Acts of Memory and Imagination. Verso, 2002.
Landy, Marcia. The Historical Film: History and Memory in Media. The Athlone Press, 2001.
My Private Life. Directed by Jill Daniels, High Ground Films, 2014,
My Private Life II. Directed by Jill Daniels, High Ground Films, 2015,
Not Reconciled. Directed by Jill Daniels, High Ground Films, 2009,
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Press, 2009.
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Suggested Citation
Daniels, Jill. “The Subjective Voice and Hybrid Documentary Filmmaking Strategies: A Case
Study.” Alphaville: Journal of Film and Screen Media, no. 17, 2019, pp. 97110. DOI:
Jill Daniels is a renowned filmmaker and scholar. Over thirty years she has made numerous
documentary films. She has won many international awards including Jury Award for Best
Experimental Film at Ann Arbor Experimental Film Festival, USA, in 2017 for My Private
Life II (2015). She is coeditor of Truth, Dare or Promise: Art and Documentary Revisited
(2013) and her monograph, Memory, Place and Autobiography: Experiments in Documentary
Filmmaking was published in 2019. She is a member of the editorial board of Media Practice
& Education. She teaches Film Practice and Theory at the University of East London.
Full-text available
Recent cultural representations of the Windrush Generation – economic migrants from African Caribbean nations who were invited to live and work in Britain between 1948 and 1972 – and their descendants have overwhelmingly represented British citizens of African Caribbean descent as ‘victims’. This is unsurprising; the so-called ‘Windrush Scandal’ in the late 2010s saw hundreds of members of the Windrush Generation wrongfully lose their British citizenship, many of whom faced detention and, in some cases, even deportation. ‘Windrush: The Years After – A Community Legacy on Film’, a lottery-funded heritage project in the North of England, represents the attempts of local filmmakers and community activists to instil a renewed sense of belonging for African Caribbean descendants who call Britain their home. The ethical innovation of this documentary filmmaking project lies in its ability to reframe descendants of the Windrush Generation as ‘more-than-victims’ – and, by extension, its redefinition of the role of the documentary ‘subject’ as an engaged participant and stakeholder. N.B. this article is an adapted version of a chapter from my PhD thesis, In Their Own Image: Voluntary Filmmaking at a Non-Profit Community Media Organisation (Bramley 2021b). The full open access version of this thesis can be found at:
The publication of this volume was assisted in part by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, an independent federal agency whose mission is to award grants to support education, scholarship, me-dia programming, libraries, and museums in order to bring the results of cultural activities to the general public. Preparation was made possible in part by a grant from the Translations Program of the endowment.
Issues in Contemporary Documentary
  • Jane Chapman
Chapman, Jane. Issues in Contemporary Documentary. Polity Press, 2009.
Family Secrets: Acts of Memory and Imagination. Verso
  • Annette Kuhn
Kuhn, Annette. Family Secrets: Acts of Memory and Imagination. Verso, 2002.
The Historical Film: History and Memory in Media
  • Marcia Landy
Landy, Marcia. The Historical Film: History and Memory in Media. The Athlone Press, 2001.
Difference and Repetition: on Guy Debord’s Films.” Guy Debord and the Situationist International: Texts and Documents
  • Giorgio Agamben
Conducted by Jonathan Thomas. The Third Rail
  • Alexander Kluge
  • Interview
Kluge, Alexander. Interview. Conducted by Jonathan Thomas. The Third Rail, Issue 10, 24